From Jacksonville to Key West, these tours celebrate artists, food and community.
By Shayne Benowitz
From edgy downtown districts to enclaves in historic towns, Florida is teeming with opportunities to experience original art by local and internationally renowned artists. Each month, cities across the state bring together art lovers and curious visitors for a festive celebration of the best artists, galleries and museums.
Whether it's gazing at the harbor from a grassy hill near the Dali Museum in downtown St. Petersburg, wandering through a maze of graffiti art in Miami's Wynwood Arts District or ambling into galleries on quiet White Street at dusk near Key West's historic Armory, each walk paints its own picture postcard.
Here's a roundup of art walks across Florida, starting with the day of the week:
Downtown Jacksonville's Hemming Plaza, directly across from the Museum of Contemporary Art Jacksonville (MOCA), functions as the headquarters for the First Wednesday Art Walk, which features live music as well as pop-up shops by local artists that showcase everything from handmade jewelry to paintings.
Spanning about 15 city blocks, the art walk, founded in 2003, draws about 6,000 attendees per month to roughly 40 cultural venues, according to Liz Grebe, marketing and events assistant for Downtown Vision, the nonprofit group that produces the walk.
In addition to major permanent cultural venues like MOCA, the Jacksonville Main Library, and Snyder Memorial Church, the Off the Grid program works to fill empty downtown storefronts with gallery and studio space, such as the 111 E. Bay Street Studio, which is currently occupied by two artists and a dance studio.
Central Fire Station, which hosts a nonprofit, artist and house DJ every month is an Art Walk hot spot. Popular restaurants and bars nearby include Indochine, Burrito Gallery and Burro Bar.
"You get a very hipster crowd in that area," Grebe says. "But the whole Art Walk crowd is a mix of families, young hipster kids and even an older crowd who likes to come out to see the art."
The Studios of Key West, inside the historic Armory on White Street, is the island's bastion for art and culture. Supporting local studio artists as well as an international residency program, the Studios provide 35 artists a year with month-long stays to work on their own projects or to collaborate with others.
The dynamic calendar of events and workshops includes roughly 24 exhibitions per year, and the Third Thursday Walk on White functions as the opening reception for many of these exhibitions.
"The island's natural beauty, its legacy as an artist's destination and the bohemian lifestyle it supports continues to draw artists to Key West today," says Elena Devers, interim executive director of the Studios.
The Walk on White is an open-door reception where attendees can meet the artists inside their studios and cottages, view the current exhibition and tour the outdoor sculpture garden.
Other nearby galleries, which include the Harrison Gallery and Stone Soup Gallery, also keep their doors open for the evening.
Artist Jan Miller's Butterfield Garage Gallery is one of the premier stops during St. Augustine's First Friday Artwalk. The Chicago-born artist opened her gallery as a cooperative space in 1999, which today showcases the work of 29 artists.
"The whole town is up for the Artwalk," Miller says. "It's a small town, it's a treasured town and it's historic. The good news is that it's walkable, and we even have a free shuttle train that will stop at different places along the route."
Run by the Art Galleries of St. Augustine, the art walk includes 15 member galleries in the downtown St. Augustine area. Other must-see venues include the Lightner Museum and the Crisp-Ellert Museum, both of which exhibit work of national and international renown, as well as the Pasta Gallery that features regional artists' work.
A bite to eat outside at Café Cordova in the historic Casa Monica Hotel is a pleasant way to end the evening.
Railroad Square Art Park in downtown Tallahassee is a community of artists and craftspeople who live and work in a 10-acre park close to Florida State University and Florida A&M University. Once a lumberyard and industrial railroad park, Railroad Square began to take shape as an artist's community in the mid-1970s.
Today, the First Friday Festival draws an eclectic crowd of about 8,000 college students, families and young professionals to browse the galleries and shops, listen to live music at three stages and enjoy food truck fare.
Popular stops include the 621 Gallery for contemporary art, The Other Side vintage store and Tasty Eats. The latter is a train's caboose converted into a Vietnamese restaurant that houses a stage and an outdoor biergarten. There's even a belly-dancing studio that performs and encourages audience participation.
Artwalk Gainesville, Last Fridays
Held the last Friday of each month from 7 to 10 p.m., Artwalk Gainesville is a free monthly self-guided tour that combines exciting visual art, live performance, and events in downtown Gainesville, Florida. Many local galleries, eateries and businesses participate, making Artwalk an exciting, fun way to experience the amazing wealth of creativity the Gainesville community has to offer.
The Bradenton Village of the Arts is a quirky enclave where artists live and work together in about 350 homes, 35 of which are galleries, studios, restaurants and shops open to the public.
Artist Linda Bronkema, president of the Artists Guild of Manatee County and owner of the Bits & Pieces gallery, describes the village as "an Easter basket" of pastel-colored cottages. Her gallery features acrylic paintings, quilt art and home decor.
Art walks typically draw an adult crowd shopping for one-of-a-kind creations and browsing galleries such as Hearts Desire, Divine Excess and Cross Stitch Magic.
Even the restaurants, including Sweet's Bakehouse, display colorful local art.
Named the No. 1 midsized city for art three years in a row by American Style magazine, St. Petersburg is a cultural hub with waterfront institutions such as the Museum of Fine Arts, the Dali Museum and the Chihuly Collection at the Morean Arts Center.
The arts district spans 30 blocks east to west from the waterfront and includes about 25 galleries. Locals typically digest the walk by picking a few galleries of interest each month and then rotating to others throughout the year. The Central Avenue Trolley traverses this area, offering service for $0.50.
Gallery participants include renowned glass artist Duncan McClellan, local painter Carrie Jadus' Studio and Craftsman House, which is owned by Jeff Schorr, president of the Downtown Arts Association.
"Typically galleries close around 5 or 6 o'clock," Schorr says. "And if people are working, they really can't get there during the week, so (the Gallery Walk) allows people a special time to view the art, and it also turns it into a social event."
The Ale & the Witch is a popular stop during the Gallery Walk for craft beer and live music in its outdoor courtyard.
The colorful vertical lines on the facade of the Robert Fontaine Gallery in the heart of Miami's Wynwood Arts District blend smoothly with the vivid street and graffiti art characteristic of the resurgent neighborhood. Fontaine's gallery exhibits contemporary pop art from the 1960s on and focuses on emerging, established and museum artists, such as Jud Nelson, Ed Ruscha and Roy Lichtenstein.
On any given Second Saturday Art Walk, Fontaine sees about 10,000 people pass through his gallery. The atmosphere is lively with NW 2nd Avenue's sidewalks jammed with revelers, food trucks and gallery parties, often with live music or a DJ.
The Acasco Gallery, the Dorsch Gallery and Gallery Diet stand out among the nearly 70 galleries. Design shops, such as Plant the Future and Elemental, also are must-sees.
The Wynwood Walls and Wynwood Kitchen draw a crowd where people dine and drink in a converted warehouse or outdoor park curated with sweeping graffiti murals by world-renowned street artists, such as Shepard Fairey, Retna and Ryan McGinness.
Downtown Delray Beach is filled with dozens of galleries and studios, all adding the artistic appeal to this vibrant downtown. Take a moment to visit the city’s Galleries & Studios page and support local artists, and take advantage of the First Friday Art Walk every first Friday of the month, October through May.
It’s a night for strolling and discovering the vibrant art scene in Downtown Delray Beach, through a self-guided tour of art galleries, studios, live music and entertainment, light bites, and refreshing beverages.